Start-Ups Don't Need To Pay To Play

How A Start-Up Used Free Marketing To Grow

You’ve most likely heard the phrase ‘pay-to-play’ before, especially as the marketing sphere grows more and more saturated. The ease of creating advertisements on social media means that people are now disillusioned with the information on their news feeds. The message you send out is worth significantly less than it was in the beginning and there’s no such thing as organic growth. It’s now a fight for limited space which you can only win with dollars.

Unfortunately, this means that your potential customers aren’t seeing the things that actually matter to them — and to you.

Small businesses and start-ups, therefore, can’t compete when it comes to getting the most visibility.

However, a small start-up which began with a break up was able to expand to a full team of employees, 150,000 users and £1 million in investment. How?

The secret isn’t really a secret at all. The CEO and founder of, Simon Powell, has always been open about his free marketing methods.

The four corners of the success story can be replicated by any start-up if they’re willing to put in the time and the hard work. At the end of the day, no marketing tools, organisers or apps will ever equate to the output of hard work. These tips will help you get started, though:


Write and write — and then write some more

Creating quality content is something I can never stress the importance of enough. Become the authoritative voice in your niche and people will trust your brand over your competitors. Not every blog post or article needs to be a sales pitch; instead, write about what is important to your potential customers. Let them know that you are aware of what they need and that you can provide the solutions. It may be frustrating as a start-up to not get an instant win but over time, the impact it has will be worth it. We started by writing 4–5 blog posts a week. This was the aim:

“While the content would not bring an immediate surge in traffic, in 6–8 months we would rank on the first page of Google results on all key search terms. Now we are there. This means we’re getting 30,000+ people visiting our site every month without spending a single pound on ads.”

In addition to quality, focus on SEO. I know this is Content Marketing 101 but SEO is still an evergreen digital marketing technique. was created because there was a common problem which needed a solution: non-refundable travel plans. Simon was the kind of person who needed the platform so before he even needed to do any keyword research, he used all the search terms he would have used. Naturally, other people had searched for the same things, but there were very few answers out there to his question. That’s where we filled the gaps with meaningful articles.

Well-researched and genuinely helpful content has been one of the biggest factors for putting the start-up on the map — and on the first page of Google.

Bear in mind that when you’re writing, it’s not about cramming keywords into the meta description, but about answering real people’s questions. This is what should be at the core of any business’ content marketing strategy: am I adding value?


close up of a person typing on their laptop


Choosing the right social media platform

Social media is a significant contributor to the success of any digital marketing campaign, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

However, the platform you choose has a bigger impact on your brand’s image, reach and overall success. This is because each social media site attracts a different audience with different purchasing needs. For example, Facebook and Instagram users are more likely to tag their friends in a nice holiday picture than Twitter users. This even applies to the same person, as the type of content they expect to see on each platform will change as they switch between their apps.

At their very basis, Facebook is personal, LinkedIn is professional, Instagram is aspirational, Twitter is political. Cater to the expectations of the audience rather than shoehorning content in; social media isn’t one-size fits all and there is no definitive formula.


close up of android phone home screen


Build genuine connections

The art of networking isn’t dead; in fact, this is a keystone of start-up success.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to experts, bloggers, other CEOs and start-up success stories. The worst thing they can do is ignore your message and the only thing that ends up hurt is your pride. If they do respond, you could be tapping into a wealth of knowledge from people who are exactly where you want to be.

Most importantly, find business owners who are at the same stage as you with their start-up. These are the people who will connect you to other people, who will educate you and champion you — in return, you need to do the same for them.

Be aware of how you present yourself, though, as too often if you seem overly confident, it creates the perception of the Delusional & Pushy Entrepreneur type you see in the blooper reels of The Apprentice, not a serious, enthusiastic businessperson.


two men high fiving


Answer questions

Your whole business should be centred around trying to solve a problem, therefore your marketing should too. Answer your audience’s questions before they have to ask them, and don’t create a sales pitch out of it. Education should be enough to intrigue people and make them want to find out more about your business.

Share your expertise and make it accessible to your customers. We knew that 80% of flights, hotels and all manner of other travel booking are transferable, even if they’re non-refundable. However, we also found that 58% of people didn’t know this. Our goal was to make sure that they did.

Our aim with the TransferTravel blog was to make it the reliable source on consumer rights and travel. Finding us through social media, search engines or via a connection is what brought people to the site — our dependability and depth of knowledge are what made them stay.


neon question mark in an alleyway


To round up…

These four components do take a significant portion of time but it means you can save your money for the things you can’t do, such as building a website or creating a great product. Dedicating time to growing your marketing strategy can be harder than opening your wallet but if it gives you and your business the best start, then it’s worth it. is proof of that.


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  • PR
Posted 12 February 2019

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